Cook Islands, island group (2015 est. pop. 17,000), 90 sq mi (234 sq km), S Pacific, SE of Samoa; a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. It consists of 15 small islands and is comprised of two main groups, the Southern (or Lower) Cook islands (Rarotonga, Mangaia, Atiu, Aitutaki, Mauke, Mitiaro, and Manuae and Te-Au-o-tu) and the Northern Cook islands (Nassau, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Pukapuka, and Suwarrow). The islands were formerly called the Hervey Islands. Avarua, on Rarotonga, is the capital and administrative center of the group. In 2017 the islands' entire offshore exclusive economic zone, some 734,000 sq mi (1.9 million sq km), became a marine park. The Cook Islanders are Maoris, a Polynesian people, and are largely Christians. English is the official language and Maori is also spoken.
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